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Sweet Season: After a Garden Frost

Which cold-tolerant vegetables not only survive frost, but taste better after a freeze?

Frosted GardenMost of us don’t dread the coming of fall even though for several parts of the country it means the end of vegetable gardening season. (Of course, there’s always growing indoors). That first frost will yellow the cucumber vines and turn the basil leaves black. We’d better have all the corn picked — if there’s any left — and bring in the winter squash if we want it to keep, ahead of that first glistening, frozen veil. And the lettuce? Kiss it goodbye, unless you’ve covered your delicate plants or the first frost is light. On the other hand, spinach may not be hurt if the frost is light enough.

But there are reasons to look forward to the first garden frost. Some cold hardy vegetables not only survive it, they come out of the garden tasting even better than before. Kale and broccoli especially gain a sweetness from a light frost that can’t be matched by anything picked earlier. Other members of the brassica family — cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kohlrabi — also do well with frost.

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We often justify our gardening, especially our organic gardening, by claiming that vegetables from our garden just taste better. While this is generally true, the frost-touched broccoli and kale from our gardens prove it without a doubt. When we garden, we control what we grow and when we harvest it. It’s doubtful that the kale you buy in the grocery store has had the benefit of cold weather. Even if it has, you’ll never know. But the vegetable gardener pays close attention to the weather her plants are experiencing, both before and after it happens. Often, we anticipate the first frost so that we may protect our delicate plants. But we also look forward to harvesting the first frost-touched broccoli because we know it’s a treat we can’t buy. Yum!

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